We can all think of someone—or several someones—who we know that no matter the circumstances of our lives, whether up or down, these people just make you feel fantastic. Not to mention, they have this effect on others. Many others. Gosh, there’s just something innately magnetising about them, and they occupy the right chemical make-up that makes for a human being that makes you laugh, make you think, makes you feel good, and makes you want to have fun. And what is having fun without a soundtrack to go along with it? Yeah, not as much fun.
It isn’t an uncommon practice; I (like more people) bond effortlessly with people who enjoy, listen to, play, and share good music. It’s the focus of this Spade on the Street segment that I have for you all today.
Toronto is notoriously prominent for its outstanding contributions, innovation, export, creation, and expression of music. Renowned for our concerts, annual festivals (everything from NXNE, Camp Wavelength, Turf, The Jazz Festival, and Digital Dreams to name a few), and with a long long list of music venues, the talent emerging and established in T.O. are second to none. A person who is very much a part of this emerging talent is our focus of today’s feature, DJ/Producer Alberto Jossue.
Born in Lima, Peru, he spent some time living in the U.S., to which he eventually settled in Toronto. For as long as I have known him, music has been in the forefront of everything that motivates, inspires, and move him, and he is described as a “master storyteller in his musical compilations” while currently holding residencies with his personal project White Label Promo, as well as NEST Toronto, Cabal Toronto, Spark, Secret Society and Summerdaze. His first EP Moon Dance on 3XA Music cracked the top 20 progressive releases on Beatport earlier this year, and it’s success has propelled him into becoming one of Toronto’s top House and Techno DJs/Producers. Watching this journey unfold for him has been remarkably impressive and exciting, with upcoming performance by him at Senseless Music Experience at the Evergreen Brickworks, and Electric Island, both here in Toronto.
Alberto and I got to hang out last month around the 15th for his session, and as per usually, MAN, what a delight the day was. Alberto and I have been friends for nearly 10 years now, having shared many a Puckish adventure, with my favourites always involving music, be it a discussion, a jam with keys and a guitar, a night out dancing, a documentary (Hendrix was a favourite), or a listening session. After his interview, which was carried out with the suspension of his own chromatic and mind-bending beats playing with liquid flow in the background, he insists we listen to Moon Shaped Pool, the latest album by Radiohead, a huge favourite of his. I had not heard the whole thing yet, and he jumps right into the one song they have only ever played live, and never released until now, called “True Love Waits”. Rather than an acoustic love ballad, Thom Yorke’s voice floats over lucid and light piano that overlaps like river splashes, sunk down deep at times, and standing every hair on your arms straight up when you also rationalise the beauty that this 2 decade-old song has been given. I spent the week after weeping heavy, wet tears everytime I listened to it. It is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Anyway, this listening session was followed by good laughs, a hearty lunch and pint at Otto’s Berlin Doner, to which it wrapped up with some stellar photos.
Upon arrival howbeit, earlier in the day, we found ourselves sitting down in his studio, as he simultaneously answers phone calls, eats a yogurt and fruit, and burns a piece of smudge-like wood from Peru, filling the room with loamy, medicinal smoke to clear out the bad juju, all the while polishing up a collaboration project on his laptop. His beats are going, we get to interviewing, and he wastes no time morphing into ‘master story teller’:
NS – What inspired you to want to get into music?
AJ – See there’s different parts… different events that come to mind… first event would have been the discovery of guitar, which stemmed from my family. One of my aunts who raised me, saw my curiosity with my dad’s guitar, which I was not allowed to touch. And she was the one who introduced me to it, so we did three cords, and that changed my life. Then, once I lived in Canada shortly after that, I remember vividly discovering Green Day and Nirvana and more punk-grunge-geared rock bands, while in elementary school, and translating those three cords that I knew. Between that moment, and Canada, there was a time where I was still into other stuff like surfing, sports, hanging out with my friends, getting into trouble, but those three cords came into play again when I discovered that type of music with that sort of passionate angst that I was feeling at the time. And I figured out that those three cords were essentially the three most used cords in that type of music.
I began to figure out how to play those punk cords on my own. And as soon as I started to realise that I could play the music that I was listening to, it became an obsession to learn all of my favourite music. For 5 more years after that I went back to Peru, and I made a whole bunch of friend in my neighbourhood when I was living back there again, and a lot of them played guitar, that had a lot more experience than me, and that’s when I discovered playing with people. We got together and made a list of all those classic, amazing tracks like Nothing Else Matter — Metalica, Starway to Heaven — Led Zeplin, Hotel California – The Eagles, you know those epic, epic guitar jams, and we locked ourselves up for an entire summer to learn them. And we learned them from top to bottom. That was one of the most prideful moments for me, where I said to myself, this is it. This is what making music feels like, minus the ‘coming-up-with’ part so those are the three things that sparked my desire to perform… playing those songs with my friends while drinking at the park. Translate that into DJing, and it’s literally the same thing. I am performing other people’s music with my twist for my friends, but this time in a way bigger venue, and with a lot more friends.
Figuring out what career path you want to pursue in life, more often than not, can be somewhat of a challenge. We look at our situation and do our best to take the necessary steps in order to walk down the road towards our career goals. Naturally, obstacles can sometimes get in the way, but with your goal in mind, you push on and take a different road. Alberto went on to discuss having to shift your mindset, remain dedicated to what you believe, and how it began with his enrolment with the Toronto Institute of Technology.
AJ – I did audio engineering there. I figured I would try to make a career out of that. I was never really interested in school. I was good at things, but I was lucky enough to know who I was was when I was very young, and knew I would be miserable if I didn’t do what I wanted to do. I live my life doing what I want to do, when I want to do it, because I only have right now. That could get you into a lot of trouble. You make a lot of mistakes in life, but those mistakes are great because you did things exactly how you wanted. Every time, all the time.
NS – You’re being integral to yourself
AJ – Yeah! I try to make the best out of my life. If I go and spend a day doing something I don’t want to do, I feel like I just wasted a day of my life, and when I’m on my deathbed, whenever that comes, that’s one more day I could have had. That’s the way I see it, that’s the philosophy.
He went on to talk about the struggles of trying to make it in such a competitive industry. Toronto is a place that oozes cool, and with all due respect to my hometown, it’s a blessing and a curse at times. Alberto shares what it means to try and find a beacon to stand within and get people to listen, especially in a city that is both beautifully and predictably equidistant in all that is modish and with-it. He goes on to discuss his involvement and his transitioning into DJing:
AJ – I began DJing seven years ago. You were there, through my learning days, I was finished audio engineering school, and ironically it was right in the boom of MP3s and uStreams, and so it destroyed the industry.
Every studio that I worked with, either went broke, shut down, or had gone completely bankrupt. So there were no jobs. So I had to work shitty jobs that I hated. But I had to pay my bills, and trying to find myself, since I couldn’t be an audio engineer, which is what I had envisioned. And so I said, “Well, back to artist it is!”. I was always a big fan of electronic music. I loved it. And I was always the guy getting into a car saying “Yo, check out this CD… listen to these 8 new tracks that I found that were amazing.”
NS – *Laughs* sounds familiar.
AL – *laughs* Right? So I was already DJing and I didn’t even know it. I’d get into a car and I’d say “Listen to this! Listen to this!” and that’s what inspired me to get everything started. It had to naturally come to you. If your subconscious and impulse is… as soon as you hear something amazing, and you want share that with someone, just to see a reaction and guess how it’s going to make a person feel, and to actually be satisfied from doing that, then you are naturally a DJ. The problem now a days is too many people have been looking at their TV and computer screens for the past 7 or 8 years and saying “That’s a cool thing to do!” “Oh, look at that guy, he’s the center of attention. He’s the party guy. All the girls want him. He’s travelling all over the place…” And that is what people are taking in, and developing the passion after seeing it done. Some don’t start with that passion, they sort of develop it later on, and at the same time, we get an influx of people who not organically attached to it. When we got started, and I’m talking about my generation, and the generations before us… there was no hype. There was no media, it wasn’t on TV, it wasn’t on the radio, it wasn’t on the internet, or Facebook. It was in a warehouse. It was in an underground club. It was, you had to hear about it, and then you had to be there, and nobody was filming it with their phone…
NS – You’re absolutely right, and there is a difference when people realise that.
AJ – I like to think I’m lucky enough to have been one of those guys who knew how turntables works, who went to raves since the age of 17… I’m listening to all of these different artists, I’m making CDs with 20 different genres of music on it, and they’re all great, and little by little, I started this. That’s what drove me into it.
So, our conclusion and the continuation of his perspective on the industry was upon us at this time, and a candid and simple transition of thought and feeling rounded down to this:
NS – What is most rewarding about your craft?
AJ – To be honest… the most rewarding things is I get to do what I want to do. And I’m not spending my days wondering who I’m going to be. I know who I am. I think that’s the most rewarding thing for me personally. Professionally, I get to push good music. Whether it’s an undiscovered artist or someone huge, I have an audience now of people who I can introduce to an alternative to, in contrast to the hollow things that they’re being presented by the media, by radio, and by everyone. DJs are musical freedom fighters. We’re fighting a machine that we can’t possibly beat. You know… *laughs* I’m trying to stay away from classifying genres and specific artists. I don’t want to say negative things about certain artists, but it’s a fight! It really is!
We look at a city like Toronto… Toronto is a very trendy city. It’s amazing because, it’s got everything in it, but it’s very trendy. Toronto loves whatever’s hot. But what I feel as a Torontonian myself… I’ve been here for 14 years, I consider myself a Torontonian… is there is a lot of stuff that’s hard! Right now, we’re on the center of the map. Toronto’s like “WOAH”… We got Drake, we got The Weeknd, it’s like wow, this is crazy, you know what I mean? But there is just so much more. There is so much music coming out of this city, let alone all over the world… there are artist that somehow are still sitting in their rooms like I am right now with my studio gear, and they’re making noise, and they need that push. That’s the DJ’s responsibility. I find that what is rewarding to me as a DJ is I get to help those artists that deserve the break. We walk into a room and we get to decide what these 600 or 100 or 8000 people get to listen to. They’re there for a memorable night. They’re paying money hoping to have a great story the next day to take with them, and I get to put the soundtrack to that. Let’s face it; your best party days are your best memories. So, you get to give them the soundtrack to that time, and you get to chose what artists get that honour. That’s huge. That’s a huge responsibility and it’s so rewarding. It happens every time, where someone goes up to the booth and goes “What is that??” “Dude, what are you doing to me??” “What are you playing???” and you say “Oh, you know it’s A, B, and C from some basement in Switzerland, and he needs your help so buy his fucking records.” And now you’ve just created a fan for someone else’s records. They might have never made the connection if the DJ wasn’t there.
Last but not lease, the last reward is just to where your from. Your city. You’re contributing culturally. I like to think that my music evokes feeling, evokes spirit, it makes you smile, it makes you close your eyes and enjoy life. It makes you forget about your problems. If we DJs do that for people who are coming every weekend to hear us, we are contributing to the growth of our communities and to our culture. A person goes on with their day after being inspired by what they hear at that show, or the podcast they just listened to. And now they’re spreading that positivity and that good feeling to other people. They’re being happy. That’s huge.
That’s what all does it for me. I gave you a loaded answer, but it was a loaded question.
Alberto works away as I snap away. Three bracelets made of Onyx, Pyrite, Beechwood, European Seed Beads, and a Metallic Skull.
Alberto Jossue in Kensington Market
Alberto Jossue in Kensington Market